Maria McKee

Late December

  • AllMusic Rating
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

Singer and songwriter Maria McKee takes another step inside that dimly lit hallway where her Muse dwells and comes out into the light with yet another direction to follow. Where her last studio offering Peddlin' Dreams was swathed in acoustic guitars and folk-rock textures, Late December is anything but. On her debut for the eclectic and wonderful Cooking Vinyl label, McKee announces no return to the squall of Life Is Sweet, but there certainly are nods to Burt Bacharach (in the sophisticated pop of the title track which opens the album), Brian Wilson, Bruce Springsteen and Phil Spector (the innocence maturing into reluctant wisdom with playful keyboard interludes inserted between large, multi-tracked vocal choruses -- all McKee -- in an approximation of Spector's Wall of Sound production technique in "A Good Heart" and the lyrical determination to stand in the fire of Bruce Springsteen), to Jim Steinman (the lyrical and production bombast of "Destine"). Does that mean this record is somehow derivative and lacks imagination? Hardly. What it does mean is that McKee doesn't imitate anything. All of these personas are part of her aesthetic articulation, and many others, from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht (courtesy of Lotte Lenya's performances) to Samuel Beckett, Flannery O'Connor, Brendan Behan, and the American theater tradition, all are woven tightly into her writing and singing with many others. This is the most ambitious and complex set of songs McKee has ever released, and also her most naked. The production on these songs protects the protagonists she evokes with her R&B tinged alto wail and whisper everywhere. Her words express the kind of vulnerability, brokenness, and raw gut hurt where everything aches. Check the evocative honesty of "My First Night Without You." In the Bo Diddley meets rockabilly "Too Many Heroes" she talks of passage as something that already happened where she expresses that she has too many heroes and not enough friends, though it's worth it when love and intimacy with the beloved are present. "Scene of the Affair" is a scathing account of illicit love, of ache and ashes where once the heart burned with desire and longing framed by guitar-blazing rock. The strutting rock of "One Eye on the Sky (One on the Grave)," puts McKee on the wall, walking through the death of love, lust, emotional and spiritual materialism, and finds her pushing, ever pushing to be able to rise above it all. Her voice howls and coos as Jim Atkins' (he co-wrote three of the album's tunes with McKee including this one) guitars, full of metallic sheen, rise on the refrain and jangle in the verses. The album closes with "Starving Pretty," a dramatic love song that restates its determination to rise from the ashes of the ruins to walk together as one. These songs are so utterly dramatic in their composition with shifting tempos, phrasing, multiple parts and bridges, they are the most complex she's ever written, and McKee is no stranger to complexity in her structures. Those looking for McKee the acoustic singer/songwriter to return will have to wait for another album. Those who have twisted and turned with delight and anticipation of her next move will hopefully delight in this raw, poetic, musical kaleidoscope of a gift from McKee and her Muse.

blue highlight denotes track pick